Head Start science

Skylar Abernathy looks into a microscope along with teacher Tanisha Henry in the Head Start Science Lab at Constantine School in Anniston. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

Sometimes the toughest thing about science is just getting your coat on. 

At least, that’s how it went Wednesday, when more than a dozen 4-year-old students went to retrieve more than a dozen tiny lab coats from their nooks in a classroom at Constantine Head Start. Finding your own coat — and finding the sleeves in it — can be tough when you’re in a crowd of other kids.

“Remember, scientists try,” reminded teacher Fredia Daniel, also clad in a lab coat. 

Welcome to Constantine’s new science lab, which opened this week at the Head Start campus in the the former Constantine Elementary building.

Head Start was pre-K before Alabama discovered pre-K, a federally funded early-childhood education program for kids in low-income communities. Constantine Head Start has about 170 students, school officials say, and teachers in the program decided months ago that they wanted their 3- and 4-year-old students to get a leg up on science and mathematics. 

The result is a twice-a-month class that teaches preschool kids to think like scientists. 

“A scientist is someone who asks questions,” Daniel told the class Wednesday. “They make predictions. They measure things. They make comparisons. They keep trying.”

Instead of Bunsen burners and bubbling flasks of chemicals, the lab is equipped primarily with apples. Not the computer, the fruit. 

On Tuesday, kids planted apple seeds in plastic cups of dirt. On Wednesday, they guessed what an apple looks like on the inside, drawing their theories out in a journal. Then, teachers cut apples open to show what’s actually inside. Later, teachers put apple slices into test tubes full of water, vinegar and lemon juice. Turns out there’s a lot of science you can do with fruit. 

“We’re going to have a taste test,” said teacher Brandie Hill. “We’re going to do sink-or-float later. They can build an apple tower out of apple slices.”

The new science lab is a pilot project, said Gayle McClellan, parent engagement specialist for Cheaha Regional Head Start, which runs head start programs in six counties. She said similar classes are being held at the program’s Lincoln, Ashland and Talladega center. 

So far it’s a low-cost project, McClellan said. After a month of apple experiments, the class will move on to pumpkins and later experiments with fabric.  

McClellan says she wishes she’d had this sort of introduction to science – with lab coats and microscopes – at such an early age. Most kids don’t, she said. And she isn’t worried about the scientific method being too much for them. 

“They absorb this like a sponge,” she said. 

Four-year-old Haiden Jackson said her favorite part of class was planting apple seeds. 

“To make it grow, we need water, we need sun, and we need seeds,” she said.

Jackson said she expected it would take “about seven hours” for something to sprout in her cup of dirt.

It’s a theory, teachers say. 

Soon she’ll know if it’s right. 

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.